Sovereign Grace Churches recently issued a statement explaining why they could not agree to a third-party investigation of the allegations that have been raised against them. That statement can be found here. And in response, Rachael Denhollender replied to their statement, and her reply is here.
And so an obvious question ought to occur to everyone. As we consider these claims and counterclaims, we ought to ask ourselves what everyone is standing on. We clearly know that one side is saying did too and the other did not, but what are the assumptions that lie underneath the competing claims? Are they the same or different?
What I hope to show below is that the standard that Rachael Denhollander is now advocating is a radically unbiblical one, and that those who are supporting her in this have practically abandoned the doctrine of Scripture’s sufficiency.
Facts and Foundations
In her response, Denhollander invites everyone to do a careful analysis of the facts, comparing one account of the events to the other, and so on. We are invited into an examination of the data. We are summoned to conduct a deep dive into the facts. We are given a fat file to read over the weekend.
And of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, provided you have done something else first. There is nothing wrong with building a house, for example, but there is something drastically wrong with building a house that is not grounded on the solid rock of the words of Jesus Christ (Matt. 7: 24-27). What does the Bible teach about the sifting of claims and counterclaims?
Before you examine the facts, you have to settle in your mind what your ultimate standard is. By what standard? Before you weigh the evidence, you have to buy the scales. And what kind of scales are you going to use? Before you weigh the evidence, make sure that you evaluate the scales. I say this because you cannot have anything remotely like biblical justice without equal weights and measures. And this is why Jehovah abhors a thumb on the scales. “A false balance is abomination to the Lord: But a just weight is his delight” (Prov. 11:1). He even hates that kind of thing when the crowd is cheering you on, when the crowd is demanding that you put your thumb on the scales. “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment” (Ex. 23:2).
Whenever the current of popular opinion is running in a particular direction, particularly when the multitude is demanding that their rulers “do something,” the stage is set for gross miscarriages of justice, hidden under layers of popular acclaim and applause.
By way of contrast, the standards of real justice are to be found in the words of God, and they are pure, refined seven times (Ps. 12:6). There is nothing inadequate or insufficient about the words of God that were given to us. What I am saying is nothing other than a straightforward statement of the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. But we must live out our understanding of this doctrine in how we make decisions, and this especially includes how we make decisions in matters of justice. We do not affirm that the Bible is sufficient when it comes to gathering dust on a shelf. If Scripture is sufficient for the great issues of life, this must of necessity include the administration of justice.
How could Scripture be sufficient for all things, and not be sufficient to give us guidance over what does and does not constitute justice? How could Scripture be sufficient for all things and not be adequate to instruct us how to handle the pastoral snarls that arise with abuse cases?
“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:15–17).
Concrete and Cushions
One of the reasons why we miss this is that we have a preconceived (and erroneous) idea of what godly justice must feel like. God defines what justice is, but contemporary man wants to define it by how it feels—which is warm and affirming. But this is backwards. It should actually feel like your basement, and not like your living room.
When I go down into the basement to look at how the foundation is doing, what I want to see is straight lines and cold concrete. I don’t want the foundation to be “approachable,” or “cozy.” I want the concrete to not care at all about my feelings. I want it just to sit there, remaining in place, holding the house up, and looking at me and my feelings with a baleful eye.
Up in the living room, where the lines can be straight because the concrete below is cold and unfeeling, the place can be subsequently fitted out with all those things that make a place livable—carpet, sofas, Afghans, cushions, and all that good stuff. The man’s touch is down below, and the woman’s touch above. But because what we are now seeing is a feminization of justice, this has the effect of taking all the cushions, and pillows, and rolled-up carpets, throwing them into a heap, and then trying to raise a stud wall on them. It worketh not. It transpireth no way.
It is the kind of thing that can only result in a crooked, and ugly, and unlivable house.
The Alternative View
So let us contrast this view of the sufficiency of Scripture with how Rachael Denhollander has stated it in her response. Before we look at the facts, in the way Rachael Denhollander presents those facts, we must first take a look at how she says our scales ought to work. That is the foundational issue. And that is where the problem is—that is where the drastic problem is.
Before we examine her presentation of the facts, we need to examine her epistemology. How do we know what we know? How do we ascertain truth? How do we strive for any just verdict in this bent and broken world? What is the standard?
In her response to Sovereign Grace, she tells us plainly how she thinks it should be done, and what she thinks the standard is not. What standard does she believe to be inadequate? The emphasis below is mine.
“Regarding the other objections SGC raises to an independent review, these simply are not valid objections. Every institution that desires to pursue truth and accountability must sift through these questions, and numerous Christian experts are available to help properly exegete Biblical standards of justice and accountability. An independent review by a qualified firm requires higher, not lower, standards than the less-defined and basic standards set out in Scripture.”
One Possible Response Could Be to Dowse My Hair with Lighter Fluid and Set it Off . . .
If you think my response below is a bit stern, just reflect on the fact that the response outlined in the header was one of the available options.
So this is—speaking quite frankly now—appalling and scary in equal measure. We need to seek out Christian “experts” who are available to help us “properly exegete” biblical standards of justice. Okay, fine . . . but what she means by “properly exegete” is made glaringly apparent in the next sentence.
We need Christian experts who can help the Bible step up its game. You see, biblical standards are “less-defined,” and we need them to be—especially if we want to ensnare somebody—more defined. We don’t know who it is yet, but his name rhymes with B.J. Delaney.
Scriptural standards are basic, you see, and we need the wisdom of man to get them up to intermediate, or perhaps even up to advanced. We need a “qualified firm” that will help us transcend the lower standards we find in the Bible, and get us all up to those “higher standards” that we so desperately need in these troubled times. How troubled are the times? Well, for starters, the Bible has let us down, and we need somebody who has been to an accredited law school.
So we need to be better than the Bible. We need to get higher than Scripture. We need to be holier than God. And all God’s people said, yikes.
“And I wept much, because there was no qualified firm, and none was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. And one of the seven Christian experts saith unto me, Weep not: behold, proper exegesis hath been conducted, the standard has been raised to an higher one, and a qualified expert hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof” (Rev. 5:4–5, modified by certified scholars in order to help Scripture meet a higher standard).
Break It Down a Bit Further
Okay, so let us look at this closely. One of the basic biblical standards (before anybody fooled around with it) is that of requiring two or three witnesses for a conviction. What would it even mean to take this a notch higher? So what direction is higher? By what standard?
“At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.” (Deut. 17:6).
If we altered this standard, we can only go in one of two directions. We could require four or five witnesses for a conviction, or we could settle for one witness. But settling for one witness is not the standard “growing up to a higher maturity.” Rather, it is a flat violation of the standard—“but at the mouth of one witness he shall not . . .” This is not to help define or refine the standard—it is to reject the standard.
So Scripture at this point is not less defined. It is quite specifically defined—one witness is not sufficient to ensure a conviction under any biblical system. But there is an optical illusion here for some who tend to disbelieve in the scriptural standard of “innocent until proven guilty.” Allowing a conviction on the strength of one witness—without independent corroboration—certainly makes it easier to secure a conviction of the accused. And so if you already (quietly) assumed that the accused must be guilty, it looks like you are facilitating justice, making it easier to put one of the bad guys away. But this is not raising the standard. It is lowering the standard, altering the standard, abandoning the standard, and insulting the standard. Whenever men set aside the Word of God for the sake of their tradition, the results are always atrocious. Just like this.
Now Scripture certainly allows us, and even invites us, to go the other direction. We may adjust the standard for the sake of maintaining the principle found within the standard. I think we see this in the requirement for two witnesses. Or perhaps three. Which is it? It depends. If the two witnesses are Mr. and Mrs. Smith, then perhaps we need three. And if the third witness is their son, then maybe four. But when we do this, we are honoring the principle of independent corroboration, and we are honoring it because we are requiring proof beyond all reasonable doubt.
But if we shift from requiring two witnesses, and go down to one or none, we are violating the principle. We are wadding it up and throwing it away.
The Great Glass Houses Panel
According to the current schedule, the Southern Baptist Convention this next round is going to host a panel discussion that includes Russell Moore, JD Greer, Beth Moore, and Rachael Hollander. That discussion has not yet occurred, but according to the way things are running up to this point, it appears they are going to assemble a giant glass house on stage, and they are going to sit in that glass house, and they are going to throw stones. In fact, I think from this point on that panel ought to be called The Great Glass House Panel (TGGHP).
What do you think the odds are that Greer, the president of the SBC, is going to take the occasion of that panel discussion to announce that he has contracted with GRACE—the organization being promoted by Rachael Denhollander for putting Sovereign Grace Churches under a tilted microscope—and has invited them to conduct an independent, third-party investigation of the Southern Baptist Convention, and all of its seminaries?
How many pastors, seminary professors, or church officers in the SBC have been accused or convicted of sexual improprieties, including harassment, child molestation, and more? How many church leaders dealt with the problem inadequately? And how many offenders even managed to get positions with other churches in the SBC? The Houston Chronicle said the problem was bad, saying there were something like 700 victims across 20 years. Okay, hold that thought for just a second. Now . . . how many pastors or church officers among the Sovereign Grace Churches have been accused or convicted of such behaviors? The answer to that question, mon frère, is none. Now juxtapose these two organizations of churches, and try to guess which one of them is demanding that the other one conduct an independent, third-party investigation of their history in these matters? If you guessed the absurd answer, you would be correct. This whole business is enough to make a cat laugh.
On the other hand, I believe that a bunch of these good ol’ Southern boys played football in high school or college, and learned that the best defense is a good offense. So there’s that.
Just to be clear, I don’t believe the Southern Baptists need to call for an independent third-party investigation of themselves, for reasons I have written about elsewhere. I have also written that the accusations against the SBC need to be treated biblically as well, and that includes appropriate contextualization. But so long as the SBC is operating their Beam-in-Eye Optometry Clinic, so long as they are scapegoating C.J. Mahaney, and so long as they continue to address the plague of sexual misconduct in their own ranks through shameless virtue-signaling, I will continue to ask them why the standard they are insisting upon for C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Churches does not apply to them. If it applies to C.J. Mahaney at all, it should really apply to them also, in spades.
“If you insist upon an answer, my son, it does not apply to us because it is a theological mystery, full of imponderables, having to do with the secret decrees (Dt. 29:29).”
Do they really think that organizations that have had trouble with abuse in their ranks should really forswear any and all attempts to deal with it themselves? But that would include them, right? Let us turn and ask them directly. So you are the leaders. You are the important ones up front. Show everybody how it is done. Show us all that there is nothing to worry about. Show us all how virtuous and pain-free third-party investigations are. It’ll be totally great.
No, I don’t think that is going to happen. I don’t believe that the people who think independent third party investigations are totally swell for people with names like C.J. Mahaney (or Delaney) have the same opinion of them when it comes to their organizations and institutions. Why is nobody calling for an independent third party investigation of the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole, or of the seminaries? Why, the question answers itself.
That hasn’t happened because what you need to do when you are galloping across the tundra, and Russian wolves are howling after your sled, is look around for someone expendable like C.J. in order to toss him off the back of the sled. Perhaps that will slow the wolves down. Perhaps they will be satisfied. Perhaps everything will return to normal. Maybe God didn’t see that.
But no, not really. God is not mocked. What a man sows, that a man also reaps (Gal. 6:7). The judgment with which you judge you shall be judged (Matt. 7:1-2).
What goes around comes around.
And Another Thing . . .
The central point to take away from all this business is that the assumptions we bring to our discussion of justice will drive and shape the definitions of all the subsequent words that we use.
Anyone who is acquainted with this case knows that Rachael Denhollander has taken on the role of a volunteer prosecutor. Isn’t that fair to say? She is the one bringing the charge. She is the one keeping the issue alive. She is the one who believes that Sovereign Grace Churches are guilty of a mismanaged cover-up.
So in what universe is GRACE—the organization that she is recommending to evaluate her charges—in any way, shape or form an independent investigation? Does independent mean independent of all ties with Sovereign Grace the defendants, but thoroughly cozy with the prosecutor’s office? Is that what independent means now?
A truly independent review would have the capacity to decide against either the defense or the prosecution. A third-party organization recommended by the prosecutor is not independent by definition. And on top of that, I can testify that Boz Tchividjian, the head of GRACE, is constitutionally incapable of investigating Sovereign Grace Churches and discovering that they are innocent of all charges. In one of the Internet blow-ups concerning one of our cases, he was an enthusiastic online participant, behaving with a serene disregard of the wisdom found in Prov. 18:17. For more information, I would refer you to the last five paragraphs of this post.
As I have written about her work in the past, I have said a number of complimentary things about Rachael Denhollander. I would continue to affirm those things. But I have also been critical at points, as I have been in this post. In an earlier critique, I said that she was listening to some of the wrong people, and had “gotten out of her lane.” That caused some consternation among some observers, who did not like me putting it like that.
But I now want to call you all to witness. Look again at that statement of hers that I quoted above. Read it aloud, and do it slowly. She is no longer out of her lane; she is outside the stadium. This is two tons of no-good badness or, for our European readers, 1814 kilos of mauvaise affaire.
No one should be asking Rachael Denhollander any questions about C.J., or Sovereign Grace, or Boz, or anything like that. The discussion has now been officially moved. The question now for her is this, “What did you mean, exactly, when you said that our standards need to be higher than the lower standards of Scripture?”
And which direction is higher?
Two Book Recommends
I have two books to recommend to you here. The second is A Justice Primer, which I have mentioned in this context a number of times before. But the first needs to be highlighted also. It explains why accusation is the way of the world, and how the death of Jesus Christ deals with it all.
All the Condemnation in the World
A statement of the gospel, that gospel which vanquishes the spirit of accusation.
A Justice Primer
A basic introduction to the principles of biblical justice, desperately needed in our time.